An aggressive start slowly deteriorated into a conservative finish for the Falcons. The final score read 23-13, but the Falcons left plenty of points on the field and the blame starts at the top with Dirk Koetter failing to consistently attack the Saints' 32nd-ranked defense and Mike Nolan unable to keep the pressure on Brees outside of the first half.
Of course, the one who shares the most blame is head coach Mike Smith. While he left Thursday night's game with his 11th victory of the season, yet another failed opportunity to keep the pedal to the metal after jumping out to a quick 17-0 lead is not a very comforting sign with the playoffs fast approaching. What is, however, is this team's resiliency and non-stop effort.
Koetter still had the Falcons conservatively dinking and dunking upfield, while Nolan equally kept it conservative calling mostly basic, four-man rushes on defense. When Nolan did get creative, he did so perhaps a bit too much, like having Abraham trying to cover Jimmy Graham downfield. Nolan was fortunate his players stepped up big by forcing two turnovers in crunch time.
When it seemed the Falcons had finally established an aggressive mindset into his team, they went back to his conservative ways this quarter. Koetter called runs up the middle, out wide and screens for most of the quarter, all of which led to a lackluster showing from the offense.
On the other side of the ball, Nolan's great calls to get pressure on Brees in the first half has virtually disappeared.
Koetter did well to mix runs, drop-back passes and play-action––his receivers just need to make plays.
Meanwhile, Nolan is getting creative lining up nearly all eleven players along the line of scrimmage to force Brees to take a timeout, but his decision to then rush just three on the ensuing play is questionable to say the least.
Most importantly, Smith needs to make sure his team's intensity doesn't lead to lost focus in a quarter that featured drops by White and Gonzalez, a personal foul on Moore and Dunta Robinson pushing a Saints player late after the play.
The aggressive meter is on high so far, with Nolan heavily blitzing Brees to force him into quick decisions, and Koetter calling a deep pass on 3rd and 7 along with setting the tone early with the running game.
Smith needed his team to come out with fire and they've done just that this first quarter. Now let's see if they can keep it up throughout the game.